Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Paradox of New Buildings on Campus

The Atlantic
Jon Marcus
July 25, 2016

Akerman Hall is a gateway to the complex that houses the University of Minnesota’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. But wandering through it is more like an experience in archeology.

First, there’s the former airplane hangar, built in 1948 and renovated five years ago with alumni contributions into a state-of-the-art student lounge, faculty office, and lab. Then come drab cinderblock corridors and classrooms that also date from the 1940s and don’t look anywhere near as glamorous. Behind them, however, are more than $5 million of unseen upgrades the university was forced to make to elevators, sprinklers, fire alarms, and ventilation systems so old the school was buying replacement parts on eBay.

These hallways lead to another handsomely appointed wing for which a dean scraped up some wealthy donors to make the kinds of improvements that are essential to compete for students in a hot field such as engineering.

But just upstairs from that are offices for English faculty with cracked and peeling window frames, sputtering air conditioners poking through walls, and plywood over some of the glass. This floor is still waiting for a badly needed overhaul—but there isn’t any money in the budget.

“You’re looking at the ‘before,’” said Brian Swanson, the assistant vice president for university services, finance, and strategy.

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